From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Yagli gures1.jpg

Kırkpınar is a Turkish oil-wrestling (Turkish: yağlı güreş) tournament. It is held annually, usually in late June, near Edirne, Turkey since 1346.


Before each bout, the wrestlers pour olive oil over their entire bodies, and the matches take place in an open, grassy field, with the contestants naked except for trousers made of leather, which extend to just below the knee. Victory is achieved when one wrestler either pins the other to the ground (as in many other forms of wrestling) or lifts his opponent above his shoulders.

It now holds a Guinness World Record for the longest running sports competition[citation needed].


Oldest known evidence[edit]

The history of oil wrestling links straight back to 2650 BC with evidence both from Ancient Egypt, Assyria and around. The Babylonian body of evidence, a tiny bronze, was excavated near the Chafadji-temple. The bronze clearly concerns oilive wrestlers as both athletes are depicted with olive vessels on their head.

The oldest known proof of the existence of oil-wrestling in Ancient Egypt is found in limestone from the tomb of Ptahhoteb near Saqqara from the fifth dynasty (about 2650 BC) from the same period as the Chafadji-bronze.

Another appealing proof is about 4000 years old and painted like a cartoon in a tomb near Beni Hasan in Egypt. The deceased, who occupied this tomb must have been a famous oil-wrestler in his time. In the first picture, the greasing of the wrestler and the oil stored in a reed stem is seen. In the second picture the wrestling starts. The last picture down shows the three step triumph of oiled wrestling, which is unchanged to this day. From this we can trace the basic rules.

Centuries later, the Persian conquered Egypt, and Persian shah occupied the throne of the Pharaoh's. It was during this period that oil wrestling began in Iran.

Oil-wrestling in Iran[edit]

The history of the oil-wrestling tournaments as we know today links back to the Persian Mythical Era, which, according to Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, started 1065 BC. The legendary pehlivan of this era is called Rostam, a hero constantly saving his country from the evil forces.

The ceremonial start of oil-wrestling, called by its Persian name "Peshrev" has clear links with old Iranian institutes as the Zurkhane, literally "house of strength". The building consists of a court, around which the men, who will perform, arrange themselves, and a gallery for the ostad ("master") or morshed (spiritual leader) and the musicians. Nowadays, the musical accompaniment consists of a drum and recitation of portions of Ferdowsi's Shahname. There are various rhythms employed, and a variety of movements associated with them, including displays of strength in manipulating heavy objects (such as weights and chains) and acrobatics.

Here the origin of the peshrev has to be found, by some considered to be a warming up and greet-the-audience ceremony, to others a participatory form of dance. Certain different from the usual step-right, step-left, step-right, kick-left, step-left, kick-right dance found all over the area.

Greco-Roman Oil-wrestling[edit]

The word "Pehlivan" for a wrestler was first used in the period, when the Parthian (238 BC - 224 AD) expelled the Greeks from Iran.

Fleeing the Huns, Visgoths defeat Romans near Edirne[edit]

The Huns arriving on the fringes of the Roman Empire in the late 4th century, riding their horses out of the great steppes of Central Asia into Germany and France. As they approached the Black Sea and conquered the Ostrogoths, they also drove the Visigoths across the Danube into the Roman Empire and caused the crisis that led to the astounding defeat of the Roman army under the Emperor Valens near Adrianople (Edirne) in 378 AD.

The Huns were fanatic wrestlers as well as horsemen. After securing a strong position on the Roman side of the Danube, the Huns were checked by the Roman army of general Aspar in Thrace (442).

In 447, Pehlivan Attila came again into Thrace and stopped only when Emperor Thodosius II, begged for terms. During the negotiations, a Roman-Hun wrestling competition was held in Thermopylae. The dispute was actually settled by a wrestling match and winner Attila accepted payment of all tribute in arrears and a new annual tribute of 2,100 pounds of gold and territory south of the Danube.

Three years later Emperor Theodosius fell from his horse and died. His successor, Marcian (450-457), refused to pay Attila. The Hun decided to leave it, because the sister of the Roman Emperor Valentinian III, the lovely Honoria, sent to him her ring and a message to the King of the Huns and asked Attila to become her champion. Atilla agreed to this marriage proposal. When the sister of the Roman Emperor was put in prison, Atilla decided to take care of her dowry. So he crossed the Rhine, took Metz, sacked Rheims, Mainz, Strasbourg, Cologne, Worms, Trier and put Orléans under siege. When Attila invaded Italy, Pope Leo I went to Northern Italy to meet the Great Pehlivan and pay him off to spare Rome and abandon Papal Soil.

As Honoria was not available, next year Attila took a new, young, beautiful bride named Ildico. The wedding day was spent with one of the greatest wrestling match of this time. The party went on when the King of the Huns took his new bride to bed that night. That night he died - drowned in his own nosebleed. The empire of the Huns dissipated nearly as quickly as its most famous leader. In 454, the Ostrogoths and other Germanic tribes revolted and the sons of Attila, who had quarreled among themselves, could not deal with the crisis. In the words of Bury, the Huns were "scattered to the winds".

Oil-wrestling for Sultan and Shah[edit]

During the period Islam was brought into Asia Minor, spirituality and philosophy became part of the physical garment of the pehlivan. Oil-wrestling was established as a sport on its own. In Iran and the Ottoman Empire alike wrestling became the national sport. In Iran, wrestling grew to the customary institution of the Zurkhane strong house, where people go to socialise and engage in athletic exercise. The wrestler is the strong-man in popular culture (in Persian the term is "big neck"), but he is also the pahlavan, the knightly hero, who is a free-living spirit and is generous and loyal.

The year 1360 is adapted by the organizers of the Edirne Kırkpınar as date Ottoman soldiers started to organize annual oil-wrestling tournaments in Kırkpınar, a wrestling field "within Samona village". According to the Guinness Book of World Records, this legend made the Kırkpınar world's oldest continuously sanctioned sporting competition.

The last bout between the two finalists lasted all night as neither was able to defeat the other. They were found dead the next morning, their bodies still intertwined. They were buried underneath a nearby fig tree, whereupon their comrades headed to conquer Edirne.

After the conquest, the soldiers came upon another fig tree, surrounded by a crystal-clear spring, so they renamed the surrounding meadow (which until then had been known as Ahirköy) Kırkpınar, which translates from Turkish as "forty springs" or "forty sources".

To commemorate the heroism of the conquering warriors, a wrestling tournament was re-enacted annually at this site, and the oldest still-contested sanctioned sporting competition in the world began.

Whatever tales, myths and stories. There has always been a common respect for the oil-wrestlers. The pehlivan is being stronger than anybody, having a well built body, clothed in heavy leather pants. Up till today, the wrestlers pour olive oil onto their bodies. And still you see a younger wrestler defeating an older wrestler kiss the older wrestler's hand.

According to historian Burhan Katia, the word pehlivan was also used for an officer, governor or huge and honest person. From the 16th century on, the term was exclusively used in the Ottoman Empire for the wrestling sportsman.

It was the time of Süleyman I, known throughout the world as "The Magnificent", even among such big-name-players as Charles V (Holy Roman Emperor—ruling Spain, Germany and parts of Italy), Henry VIII (the Tudor king of England), and Francis I (Valois King of France).

Süleyman, in his own land known as "kanuni", the Legislator, reigned between 1520 and 1566, and was succeeded by his son Selim II, for whom Mimar Sinan build the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, considered to be Turkey's most beautiful mosque.

But above all, it was the era of Murat III (1546–1595). Under him the Ottoman Empire reached its largest geographical area in history.

In 1590, a peace agreement was reached between Murat III and the Persian Shah. The model of the wrestling pants go back to this period. The model is still same for the Iranian "pahlivan" and the Turkish "pehlivan", except that the Turkish wrestling pants are made of leather and are called "kispet", while the Iranian pahlivan wears a "pirpet", made of silk.

Famous wrestlers from Iran came to Istanbul to compete with the Ottoman champions, and the Turkish champs were invited to Persia to show their strength.

Collecting strong men[edit]

Before 1582, all recruits came from prisoners of war, the devsirme, or other slave sources. With that devsirme, the very best and strongest guys were recruited from all the provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Only the strongest and most healthiest boys had a chance to become a pehlivan. Always known to be free enough to be honest and through history trusted for his words and behaviours.

Everywhere in the Ottoman Empire were wrestling championships held. Every city and village had its annual wrestling, like nowadays. Wrestling occurred in a variety of contexts, including social and ceremonial events. There was wrestling on religious festival days, during special evenings of the Muslim fasting-month of Ramadan, on agricultural events, circumcisions and weddings. On special occasions, charity wrestling competitions were organized outside the palaces. Only the best wrestlers were accepted in training to become members of the elite Janissary Corps.

Oil-wrestling for French Impératrice Eugenie[edit]

When the Ottoman sultan visited France in 1867, oil-wrestlers were part of his entourage and Impératrice Eugenie visited the wrestling-tournament. Wrestling was tough, but oil-wrestling was even harder. It was considered the most difficult sport in the world. In these days, the expression "Fort comme une Turc" (strong as a Turk) revived from the crusade-days.


After the Balkan War of 1912, the place of the original Kırkpınar of oil-wrestling was left. The annual match had to be relocated from Kırkpınar (near Samona) to Virantekke, now the Kapitan Andreevo checkpoint on the Bulgarian border.


After 12 years, the annual oil-wrestling competition of the Kırkpınar moved again to another place. Since 1924, bouts are held on the Sarayiçi island near Edirne.

The last Ottoman sultan was exiled to Malta. In what was left over of that great empire almost everything traditional had to be replaced or westernized. The language was "purified" by replacing words of Persian or Arabic origin for words derived from Turkic roots. Even a sport prevailing any western sport was at stake. Atatürk thought to put the wrestling organizations directly under his own sponsorship. He ordered Selim Sırrı Tarcan (1874–1956) to restyle oil-wrestling according to his guidelines for sport in the new Turkish Republic.

So the winner of the Edirne was no longer "Başpehlivan of the Kırkpınar" but "Champion of Turkey". And instead of all those traditional prizes as that "Altin Kemer" (Golden Belt) and all those horses, donkeys and camels, the winners should have a nice, modern medal, just as they do in the rest of the modern world.

It was rumored, no pehlivan would show up, when instead of gold and live-stock only a title and medal would be given "because they do so in Europe". The former officer responsible for sport in the new Republic had to back down and allowed the winning wrestler in the highest category also a "Başpehlivan of the Year" award, to be a horse, camel, sheep, duck, whatever the organizers could obtain. Selim Sırrı Tarcan also put restraint on the Golden Belt: Only for the Edirne Kırkpınar and solely if a "Turkish Champion" was winner for three consecutive years, he should become the owner of such a valuable object. The weight of the "Altin Kemer" was limited to a topmost of 1.450 gram 14 carat gold.

The Kırkpınar wrestling competitions of Edirne were still held under the protectorate of the "Agha". The agha welcomes his guests and puts them up at the hotel, has dinners, and organizes festivities. Also, he hands out the prizes to the winners in their categories. Just before the final of the Kırkpınar, the organizing agha holds an auction. The bids are placed on a ram or sheep. The highest bidder becomes the "agha" of the next year's Kırkpınar and is the number one sponsor.

When in 1928 an economical depression hit Turkey and no agha could be found, Selim Sırrı Tarcan made the Turkish Red Cross (Kızılay) and the Institute of Child Care (Çocuk Esirgeme Kurumu) responsible for the organization and hosting of the guests.

In the old days an agha was able to stop a match, disqualify wrestlers if necessary, and even to cancel the wrestling events all together. Nowadays, it is the organizing committee, who make such decisions. Red Cross and Child Care would organize the Edirne Kırkpınar for 36 years. Then the organization was made a municipality services.

Edirne Kırkpınar municipality service[edit]

In 1964, the mayor of Edirne, Tahsin Sipka, signed an act that the Edirne Municipality was responsible for the organization of the Edirne Kırkpınar. That same year, mayor Sipka made the Edirne Kırkpınar a municipality service.

During a year, about 300 different oil-wrestling games are held in Turkey. They host 10 million spectators on average.

Introduction of time[edit]

Until 1975, there was no time limit to wrestling in Kırkpınar. The pehlivans would wrestle sometimes one, sometimes two days, until they could establish superiority to one another. Wrestling games would go on from 9am until dusk and the ones that could not beat each other would go on the next day. After 1975, wrestling was limited to 40 minutes in başpehlivan category. If there is no winner within these limits, the pehlivans wrestle for 15 minutes with scored recorded. The ones that can score points in this last period are accepted as the winners. In other categories, the wrestling time is limited to 30 minutes. If there is no winner, 10 minutes of score wrestling follows.


On 20 June 1996, the Turkish Federation of Traditional Sport Branches (Geleneksel Spor Dallari Federasyonu) was accepted by the Turkish Ministry. Riding, oil-wrestling, aba-wrestling and other traditional sports were assembled in the same federation under Alper Yazoglu.

Oil-wrestling hits Europe in Amsterdam[edit]

During the 636th annual Kırkpınar of Edirne, Agha (mc) Hüseyin Sahin agreed with Veyis Güngör, the chairman of Türkevi Amsterdam, and Mohamed el-Fers (MokumTV Amsterdam) that they would unite their forces to promote traditional oil-wrestling in Europe and the world. For three days El-Fers filmed almost every match.

On September 4, 1996, MokumTV started a weekly program on the A1 Amsterdam channel. It proved to be the start of fast growing respect in Europe for this unique and highly esthetic "mother of all sports".

The late Hüseyin Sahin said during his speech, attended by Turkish president Süleyman Demirel, Edirne-mayor Hamdi Sedefçi, Veyis Güngör and Mohamed el-Fers that the Kırkpınar will exceed the borders of Turkey and unite the world.

The champion wrestlers, who attended that 636th Edirne Kırkpınar applauded the news of an Amsterdam Kırkpınar. In his speech at the award ceremony, President Süleyman Demirel said that Turkey would continue to raise world-famous wrestlers. Veyis Güngör told the press that the enthusiast reactions in Europe proved that this traditional Turkish sport is not only everlasting, but thanks to television and video, is gaining popularity under non-Turkish people as well. The organizers of the coming Amsterdam Kırkpınar received the days after the news was released about 950 letters of oil-wrestlers throughout Turkey, who would enter competition for the title of Euro-champion of the Amsterdam Kırkpınar.

The "Mother of All Sports" came in 1997 for the first ever to Western Europe, when the European Champions League were held in Amsterdam. No less than 22 television teams covered the event, and scenes from the Amsterdam Kırkpınar were shown at CNN and the BBC alike.

The 2nd European Oil-Wrestling Championship held in Amsterdam had already a final with 42 wrestlers from Turkey, the Netherlands and other European countries. Winner was Cengiz Elbeye, Edirne Kırkpınar oil-wrestling champion. Addressing the ceremony held upon the start of the matches, Erkut Onart, the Turkish Consul General in the Netherlands, said that he believed the friendship between the Turkish society and the European countries is intensified when these kinds of cultural values are brought to Europe.

In the world of oil-wrestling, Amsterdam became the most important annual after Edirne.

Special branch[edit]

Oil-wrestling was accepted as special branch by the Turkish Olympic Wrestling Federation. Sport and politics, as in 1996 the Turkish Federation of Traditional Sport Branches (Geleneksel Spor Dallari Federasyonu) was official accepted as federation representing oil-wrestling and other traditional Turkish sports.

Anti-doping control[edit]

In 1999, anti-doping control was introduced by the Turkish Olympic Wrestling Federation during the Edirne Kırkpınar.

Foreign oil-wrestler rejected in Edirne[edit]

Oil-wrestling is a growing sport, not limited to Turkey only. However, it is difficult for foreign wrestlers to enter this National Turkish Championship. In 2000, Dutch oil-wrestler Melvin Witteveen's entry in Edirne was rejected, while Kadir Yilmaz, beaten by Witteveen some weeks earlier at the Amsterdam Kırkpınar, was allowed to participate due to his double Turko-Dutch nationalities.

As the winners of the categories of the Amsterdam Kırkpınar in the Netherlands are considered to be European Champions, this creates the strange fact that according international standards the Amsterdam Kırkpınar tops Edirne, as latter being the National championship of Turkey only, repudiating non-Turkish entries.

The event attracted little attention outside of Turkey until the 1990s, when the style of wrestling began to spread to Western Europe. It has become particularly popular in the Netherlands, which now hosts its own annual version of the tournament, attracting participants from throughout Europe. Yağlı güreş wrestling matches are also held in Japan.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]